I finally got around to watching the six-part TV adaptation of John Marsden’s Tomorrow, When the War Began (first screened on ABC3). The original book was published in 1993 (one of seven in the first series, followed up with the somewhat superfluous and repetitive trilogy, the Ellie Chronicles), and was previously adapted as a film (which I talked about here) in 2010 (and because the first version of the film Red Dawn came out in 1984, I can’t suggest it too was based on the book. The similarities are rather remarkable though, so possibly Marsden was inspired…). The first book (and often its immediate sequels) have been studied in Australian schools for most of the past twenty years, and are staples of library shelves, having won multiple awards both in Australia and overseas. I’ve read them all. I’ve seen the film (which I actually quite like as an updated adaptation, although I’ve not found too many who agree with me!), and as I always thought it better suited to a TV series than a film, I was keen to see how the show looked.
In the end, I’m a bit conflicted. I didn’t hate it, and I’m trying really hard to remember I am not the target audience for the program. However, there were some choices made in the characterisations that quite bewildered me, and little (and big) things in terms of story that were changed without any apparent good reason. One change I loved – Corrie now being Indigenous was marvellous (and her mum being played by Deborah Mailman, with screen time the book never gave her).
Making stoner Chris Fiona’s brother was a bit startling, although in the end it worked quite well. Making Robyn the one with a crush on Lee (rather than Ellie) was a bit weird and kind of unnecessary. Interesting too that Robyn doesn’t end up having to kill in the bridge sequence, because her defending her friends despite her moral convictions was one of the most powerful parts of both that the film version for me (I guess they are saving it for where it belongs in the chronology of the book…?). I was also a bit bemused by some of the changes to the family units, and surprised by the fleshing out and screen time given the adult characters. Not that it didn’t work, necessarily, but given that the success of the books is often attributed to the self-reliance and journey of the teen protagonists, it was an interesting choice.
All that said, it wasn’t too cringeworthy to watch – I was pleasantly surprised to see so many quite new (and pretty good) Australian actors on screen, and there seemed to be a good balance of male and female roles, as well as racial diversity. Of course that in itself is one of the problematic elements of the series, the idea that some (not identified) Asian nation is going to invade Australia, for a hand-wavey sort of purpose.
I got quite shouty at the screen when the soldiers were incredibly inept (really rubbish shots and highly unobservant to their surroundings), and when “plans” consisted of very little more than “We should do this” “Yeah, good idea” and running in with no detail of how that should be accomplished. At least in the books there was a bit of effort made to make the crazy guerilla tactics seem plausible! In the end, I didn’t love this as much as I enjoyed the film, or the books. I think despite the opportunity to really flesh out the world and the characters in this long form, I felt less connected to the main group, and I didn’t see their connection to each other. Unlike in the other media, I didn’t “feel” Ellie and Corrie’s friendship, nor that of Ellie and Homer, which is integral to the books, particularly. I didn’t believe the romances at ALL, even though all are “canon”, which is partly because we didn’t get a chance to see them evolve in a way that even the film did reasonably well. I did like that we got the Hermit story back in a bit (I get why it wasn’t part of the film – it was an easy cut), but we didn’t get the parallels of the stories that the book used very well. And again, I wonder if part of my response is caught up in the fact I’m not the audience (and that maybe I have too much investment in the original books) – I will be interested to see how younger viewers respond to the show.